The storm clouds are gathering. The forces are assembling. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Scott administration is going to war against the Vermont Climate Council and any progressive climate legislation that the Statehouse majority might send to the governor’s desk.
Last week, we saw Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore give a “back-of-the-envelope” guesstimate of the short-term costs of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, which she herself acknowledged was probably inaccurate. Then, on Tuesday, there was an unusually aggressive riposte by Jared Duval, a member of the Climate Council. Duval pretty much ripped Moore’s testimony to little tiny bits. (Video of the hearing is here starting at the 1:40 mark; his written testimony can be downloaded here.)
Duval submitted a lengthy, detailed written statement that destroyed Moore’s testimony line by line and concluded that it was “inappropriately selective, improperly done, and deeply misleading.”
Some people in the Scott administration strike me as experts in their field who don’t necessary buy official policy, but stick it out in hopes of influencing said policy. Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore is at the top of that list, as is Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. Sometimes when Moore is shilling the company line she seems less than 100% behind what she’s saying.
But inviting lawmakers to discount her testimony? That’s a new one.
Moore appeared on January 26 before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. The topic was S.5, the Affordable Heat Act, previously d/b/a the Clean Heat Standard. Moore was there to deliver dire news about the short-term costs of the Act and the lack of in-depth research on its consequences.
She acknowledged that her “back-of-the-envelope math” could “easily be off by a factor of two here.” She even said it would be “pefectly reasonable” for committee members to be “offended” by her guesstimates. VTDigger reported these remarks but failed to express how unusual, if not downright weird, it is for a state official to cast such doubt on their own testimony.
Mind you, these caveats weren’t off-the-cuff. They were part of her written testimony. Here’s the passage in full.
The administration is openly opposed to S.5 and, indeed, to any strong steps against climate change. In that context, one would suspect that administration officials would, if anything, exaggerate the negative impacts of S.5. And Moore openly courted that kind of suspicion.
Since the beginning of his fourth term, Gov. Phil Scott has been busily drawing lines in the sand and daring the Legislature to cross them. It’s a strategy that seems to borrow much more from his years at Thunder Road than from his allegedly collaborative approach to governing.
But he’s not stopping with public defiance of the Democratic majority. He’s also putting out a series of aggressive policy stances that threaten to further inflame relations with majority Democrats. First there was the proposal to shift state retirees’ health insurance from Medicare to Medicare Advantage, the Potemkin Village of senior coverage. That proposal was cheekily unveiled during campaign season, when you might think he’d at least pretend to be friendly to the state employees’ union. Second, his proposal to spend $900,000 to study an issue that’s already being studied by the state’s Climate Council.
And third, the Department of Public Safety’s transparently political plan to publish a politically motivated (and dismally stupid) crime “heat map” that won’t help the public understand crime trends but will give the administration another cudgel for its attacks on criminal justice reform.
If there was any doubt that Gov. Phil Scott would be the single biggest obstacle in the way of meaningful climate action, it was erased in the Vermont Climate Council’s 19-4 vote to adopt its 273-page “initial plan” for meeting Vermont’s climate goals. The four “no” votes came from members of Scott’s cabinet.
And that’s all you need to know.
It’s no surprise, really. The governor lobbied against the Global Warming Solutions Act, vetoed it, and watched as the Legislature overrode his veto. He argued that the Act opened the door to costly litigation and said it was an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers.
(It must be noted that Scott was so confident of his constitutional grounds that he never took the case to court. It was the prudent course; outside of the Fifth Floor, no one seemed to buy the argument — including the Legislature’s legal team and Attorney General TJ Donovan.)
The four-page statement by the Cabinet dissenters (reachable via link embedded in VTDigger’s story) is a real piece of work. While claiming to support vigorous climate action, they produced a buffet of objections worthy of Golden Corral and just as appetizing. The statement makes it clear that the Scott administration will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into climate action, and you can expect gubernatorial vetoes if the Legislature adopts measures he doesn’t like.
Bureaucracy is often a target for criticism in these parts, but occasionally a situation calls for a plodding old tortoise instead of a flashy young hare. Take Wednesday morning, when the House Transportation Committee got an update on the Vermont Climate Council. The hearing provided a window on the huge amount of detailed work being done by the Council’s 23 members, as a body and in five subcommittees. (Its report to the committee can be accessed here.)
The Council was established by the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, which became law when the Legislature overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto. Its goal is to adopt a Climate Action Plan by December 1, 2021. That’s little more than six months from now, which is a fast pace for such a body.
The details are, for the most part, boring. But they’re important. One example: As our vehicle fleet goes more and more to electric power, we’re going to need a network of public charging stations. But exactly how much needs to be done? Council members reported today that we need about five times as many as we have now by the year 2025. Determining the extent of the need is the starting point for action. It tells us what priority the charging infrastructure should have in our massive list of climate-fighting tasks, and how much work must be done.
By December, the Climate Council will have assembled all these details into a single tapestry of climate action. And then the real work will start.